Why Leaders Are Failing At Managing Their Generationally Diverse Sales Teams

By Erica Abt on Jan 4, 2017

Have you ever heard an experienced sales manager complain about the “young sellers” on their team who demand inordinate attention and TLC, lack accountability, and quickly jump ship to a new and exciting roles elsewhere?

The topic of Millennials and their prevalence in the work place is not uncommon and while many seasoned professionals complain about their insurgence, I rarely hear of helpful tips or useful recommendations of how to successfully manage these “odd creatures”.

Let’s first consider the facts - in 2015 Millennials represented roughly 35% of the workforce, with Gen X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation representing 43%, 20%, and 2% respectively.[1]  I hate to be the bearer of bad news but in less than ten years, Millennials will represent close to 75% of the workforce.[2] This reality impacts the way sales managers should think about building and retaining their sales teams but it is not so easy to put into practice.

As a 29-year-old sales professional myself, I can identify with many perceptions of the Millennial generation. With that said, more often I find myself frustrated when I see a new article about how Millennials are lazy and entitled. From my point of view, sales managers are failing at engaging their multigenerational sales teams because they rely on tricks founded on generational myths instead of considering each sales person’s place in life and the unique value they bring to the organization.

Another reality? Millennials no longer just hold entry level sales roles. Earlier this year Symmetrics Group conducted a Generational Selling survey and found that 10% of sales managers were Millennials (57% were Gen X and only 33% were Baby Boomers); even more interesting, 30% of Millennial sellers report to Millennial sales managers.  

In a previous role, I managed a growing team of Millennial sellers and experienced first-hand what it was like to manage this crop of talent. During interviews, Millennial sales candidates asked first about the training programs and career pathing the company offered. Why? They were thinking long-term and wanted to know what the role(s) looked like beyond their first couple of years. I also had sellers on my team who took fitness classes during lunch hours, yet to make up for any lost time, ate lunch at their desk or stayed later than their peers.  

Some might say that these examples sound unwarranted but it was easy for me to accept these preferences as long as my team got their work done. At my current company – primarily Gen Xers, they adopt a similar level of flexibility for all employees which makes it a great place to work. It is critical that sales managers from all generations – regardless of the generation of their sellers – be flexible so that employees can structure their day in a way they feel they can be most effective. 

In the Generational Selling survey, referenced earlier, we asked sellers from different generations what is really important when it comes to considering a new sales role – what we call sales role attraction drivers – and alternatively, what drives them to leave current sales roles – what we call sales role attrition drivers. What we found was hugely insightful and should guide the way seasoned sales professionals engage with the younger generations:

We’re more similar than different.

When we asked sellers what they thought were the most important sales role attraction divers all generations ranked “Competitive Base Salary” and “High Variable Comp. Potential” as their #1 and #2 respectively. When we asked the same sellers why they would leave a current sales role, all generations ranked “Offered a better compensation package” as their number one reason. Organizations go to extraordinary measure to dial up other “bells and whistles” that they think will drive seller attraction and lower seller attrition but at the end of the day sales people, regardless of generation, care most about money – it’s just in our DNA.

Millennials don’t (only) care about mission-driven work.

There may be a lot of Millennials that are involved in charity work and care about volunteering, however we were surprised to see that when forced to rank 15 drivers of sales role attraction, Millennial sellers ranked “Philanthropic Opportunities” as second to last, lower than the Gen X and Baby Boomer seller respondents. Instead, Millennials opted for some of the more practical sales role attraction drivers like “Tuition Reimbursement” and “Pension and/or Retirement Options”. 

Gen X and Baby Boomers like to be social, too!

So often I see the recommendation that sales leader have to make work “fun” for the Millennials! I suppose Millennials would rather have fun than not have fun at work, but again, surprisingly, Gen X and Baby Boomer sellers ranked “Social Work Culture” as a more important sales role attraction driver than the Millennials. Perhaps it is because work provides Gen X and Baby Boomers with a social outlet that is not as easy to create when consumed with other personal commitments! With that said, Millennials did rank “Boring Work Culture” in their top five reasons for why they’d leave a sales role. Said another way, while social work culture is not most important to Millennials – just don’t bore them to tears or else they’ll be out the door.

The Laws of Attraction and Attrition

In our recent book, The Multigenerational Sales Team, we investigate the whole gamut of generational myths and teach readers how to overcome damaging perceptions in sales in order to work together effectively as well as better serve customers. Our view is that a management strategy cannot be applied based on age alone and while understanding generational preferences is important, sales managers should decide how to engage their staff based on each person’s place in life.

Want to see more? See other blog posts by Symmetrics Group regrading generational impacts on B2B sales.

Multigenerational Sales Team Pocket Guide

[1] Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2015). Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat03.htm 

[2] Twaronite, K. (2015). Global generations – A global study on work-life challenges across generations. Retrieved from http://www.ey.com/ 

Erica Abt

Written by Erica Abt

Erica Abt is passionate about both the macro trends and the ‘nitty gritty’ of sales effectiveness. At Symmetrics Group, Erica might be found examining the anticipated impact of the Millennial Generation on sales forces across America. Or, she might be building a detailed process inventory and training curriculum for CRM effectiveness. She brings her experience as a quota bearer and sales manager to help clients tackle complex business challenges, such as account and book of business planning, client service and retention strategies, as well as sales coaching and training.

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